Improved Leadership. Competitive Advantage.

For many of us, Spring Cleaning is beginning early this year. 50, 60, and even, 70 degree weather has dominated the month of February—much to the sadness of some of our more energy focused clients who were hoping for a long, cold winter.

Given this unusually warm end to winter, getting a jump on Spring Cleaning, and starting the dreadful preps for tax season, we came across an old favorite of ours. Buried below stacks of paperwork and other books, we found the U.S. Army Field Manual (FM) 22-101 first published in June of 1985. The title of this Army manual is Leadership Counseling. This was a lucky find for us, as we’ve spent the last couple of weeks talking about Quarterly Performance Reviews with some of our clients. That’s what this FM is about, the tactics, traits, and skills that allow a leader to conduct and deliver effective performance coaching and counseling.

So, let’s get a couple of things out of the way. In previous correspondence, we talked about the importance of conducing quarterly performance reviews. The CliffsNotes version of our previous argument is that providing annual, year-end performance evaluations is wrong-headed and disrespectful. Notably, at the end of the performance evaluation period, people don’t have the opportunity to change or course correct. It is, by its very nature, unfair. Written, documented, quarterly feedback provides the promise of change. All leaders should do it—period. We like, or rather love, regular, documented performance counseling because it demonstrates that leaders care. Also, it provides the leader an opportunity to recognize improvement and accomplishment. Nobody ever said that all documented performance counseling/coaching had to be negative and disciplinary in its focus—just the opposite. Performance counseling/coaching can be positive and can reinforce desired behaviors.

This 30 year old Field Manual offers some additional insight, though, worth repeating. There are some common principles that should be ‘baked into’ every performance coaching episode. We highlight just a couple now.

  • Flexibility — This is where leaders get paid the big bucks. Not every performance situation is the same, and not every individual is the same. That means that the leader should try to remain flexible and adaptable as the performance coaching interaction unfolds. Nothing can be worse than blindly and stubbornly holding a position in spite of contradictory information. Employees and subordinate leaders want to see their leaders as listeners while recognizing their uniqueness and individuality. This doesn’t mean lowering standards. It means listening to information as it is shared and not holding fixed judgements. Quite simply, keep your mind open to possibilities.
  • Respect — Performance coaching and counseling is a tricky endeavor. Especially in dealing with individuals that are performing poorly, conflict is likely to arise. That’s why many managers and leaders shun documented performance coaching/counseling. It isn’t that they’re too busy. That’s a superficial excuse. Unfortunately, it is a bit more sinister than that. Rather, it is because they lack the courage to confront conflict. Heeding to a Respect First mantra can help win the day. We know of one leader who begins the performance coaching session with a set of guiding principles. He begins by giving voice to the maxim — disagreement should never mean disrespect.
  • Support — It’s hard to believe that in the midst of the Cold War, an Army FM could be so soft and kind. Somehow, back then and even while emphasizing individual accountability, the leader must be open to feedback. Specifically, leaders can directly and meaningfully impact performance by providing support. One of our prior clients who was also a favorite of ours focused leader support with two questions: 1) What obstacles can I help remove to improve your or your team’s performance? 2) What resources (financial, staffing, or otherwise) can I provide to improve your or your team’s performance? When framed this way, it makes the formal, documented performance counseling/coaching more of a partnership.

We know that many of you aren’t going to hold written, quarterly feedback sessions with members of your team. We wish you would. Even if you don’t, the principles outlined above and first spoken to us over three decades ago in the Field Manual are attractive principles even in day-to-day, informal coaching. Remaining flexible, treating others with respect, and offering support to meet objectives is part and parcel of leadership, in general—not just in performance coaching/counseling.

To learn more about our Quarterly FAST FEEDBACK system that will reduce the time of eval delivery while still offering potency, contact principal and co-founder, Dr. Evan Offstein at 240.727.5965. Or drop him a line at evan@elpadvantage.com.

Politics continues to be in the news. It seems like there’s no escape. We’ve decided not to run from it here—applying a leadership orientation to what occurred just two or so weeks ago on January 20th. We shouldn’t ignore the truly remarkable of what occurred on that Friday. In what separates the United States from most other nations, we enjoyed another peaceful transition of power as a new President was sworn in and another was swept away in Air Force One. Again, we’re too smart to get drug into a political debate. But the inauguration did incite us to think a touch deeper on a phenomenon that occurs with all of our clients—the changing of command or the move into a new job. There’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. We’ve seen leaders take both avenues. We offer some observations and suggestions below.

The First 90 Days. There’s a psychological phenomenon called the primacy effect. What this says, basically, is that people, employees, and subordinates will remember what happens first. New leaders ignore this at their own peril. Make no mistake, the cadence and trajectory of a new leader and his or her organization is established during those first 90 days. We are amazed at how little incoming leaders reflect on their new role. We recommend that incoming leaders build a plan for their first 90 days. This could include specific short-term goals, structural or organizational improvements, and/or process and procedural enhancements. An essential resource that we recommend for all transitioning leaders is the article—The First 90 Days.

Myth 1: Take Your Time. For years, the conventional wisdom was that incoming leaders should take their time. That they should tread slowly, observe, and listen. That maxim no longer holds. Most of the organizations that we work with face environmental turbulence, regulatory imperatives, and changing market conditions. There is no luxury of time; the industries that we operate in are anything but patient. Leaders need to come in, act, and move. There’s no room for slow, plodding, leaders; stakeholders will expect them to be decisive. That’s why having a plan is job number one. By the way, this shouldn’t be confused with acting brashly or haphazardly.

Myth 2: Don’t ever say anything bad about the leader you replaced. This one, we know, will get us some emails. So, please allow us to qualify this claim. First, we’ve never seen this not happen. In other words, incoming leaders most often will say something negative about their predecessors. And, guess what? The outgoing leaders will almost always critique the new leader coming in. We have no patience for fantasyland; we must deal with the world of reality. We don’t care so much if it will happen. Rather, at ELP, we are more concerned with the who and the how. Who is this message communicated to, and how is it communicated? There’s nothing worse than an incoming leader critiquing the former leader, publicly, and, especially, in front of subordinates. In the military, we call this behavior unbecoming. We recommend sharing any frustrations with the previous regime to a spouse, to a close friend outside work, to an executive coach, or, perhaps, to a very, very, very trusted internal or external mentor. Also, if a leader is going to speak badly about something in the rear-view mirror, we strongly suggest that the leader depersonalize it. In other words, direct the frustration at a process. Procedure, or technology. Demeaning the previous leader publicly and personally hardly ever harms him or her; it only harms you.

Build the Team. This one, we know, will get us some emails. Jim Harbaugh is the controversial and energetic football coach at the University of Michigan. His successes are stellar and improbable. Consider this fact in light of his successes; three of his assistant coaches make upwards of a $1 million. Great coaches and gifted leaders accept the following as gospel—for me, for the organization to be successful, I must build a winning team. This is job number one—to assemble the team or to place people in the right positions to fit your style and to be successful. Between the three principal ELP partners, we are fast approaching 150 collective years of leadership experience and observations. Time and again, we’ve seen the truly best leaders make immediate organizational changes, installing those that he or she can trust, marginalizing or dismissing those that won’t play, and placing people in the right positions to optimize their skill sets. To be sure, there’s only one good time to do this. and it is early in a leader’s new command schedule. Waiting two years to make these changes is backwards, too late, and just flat-out dangerous.

We can’t tell you how often leadership changes go off the rails. One senior leader once said to us that how a leader enters and exits holds the key to leader legitimacy. At ELP, we can help smooth the transition. Reach out to Robin Bichy at robin@elpadvantage.com to learn more about our transitioning leader program.

Two industries that do particularly well in January, without fail, tend to be gyms and weight loss/nutrition centers. We once had a good friend who worked at GNC. GNC, of course, is the staple found at each and every mall—offering and promoting nutritional supplements and the like. He said that more people come in January than all other months combined! The reason? The avalanche of New Year’s Resolutions focusing on health, in general, and weight-loss, in particular. Spoiler alert! New Year’s Resolutions fail at an alarming rate. Even conservative estimates suggest people fail to achieve their New Year’s Resolutions at a staggering 90% clip.

At ELP, we’re kinda good at helping others achieve goals. After all, our simplified, strategic One Page Plans are all about goals and goal setting. So, please count this as both personal and professional coaching as we offer three surefire ways to up our chances of achieving our New Year’s Resolutions.

Addition Thru Subtraction. We know this begins with the noblest of intentions and the highest of hopes, but the seeds of destruction to achieving our goals for the New Year begin with something as simple as the number we choose. You see, at the beginning of any period in the goal setting process, we often overestimate our discipline and our capacity. As a result, we sign up for more goals than we can possibly handle. In our own institutional research, we found that leaders who had fewer goals on their simplified, strategic One Page Plans actually performed better and achieved them on a more regular basis! Nobody needs a Nobel Prize to figure the mechanics out. With fewer, but more important, goals, we can better marshal resources. Also, we can focus better with two goals as opposed to six. For these reasons, we suggest limiting our New Year’s Resolutions to two or three critically important goals.

Private vs. Public Good. To us, it is amazing that we don’t unlock more the power of social relationships to help us achieve our goals. Indeed, by just making them public enhances our chances of goal success. A very good friend of ours was about to go on the Atkins diet several years back. He did the unthinkable. He shared his goal to shed 20 pounds with his friends, his sisters, his parents, and, even, his Facebook friends. We thought he was crazy as we stood back and watched…and waited. He didn’t lose his 20 pounds—he lost almost 30! When we asked him how he did it, we were waiting to hear him swear lifelong allegiance to the Atkins diet, but he didn’t. He said that the biggest motivator was the public embarrassment and the mutual accountability by the very act of sharing (or broadcasting, in his case) his goals. We’ll never forget his quote and have actually employed this reasoning in some of our coaching/leadership lesson plans, “It is amazing how easy we’ll break a promise to ourselves, but nobody wants to break a promise to another…to let someone down.” So, consider sharing your New Year’s Resolution with a couple of close friends who may just hold you accountable for achieving that goal. At the very least, you may feel that you’re letting them down by not delivering on your promise.

Break Up The Goals! The maxim—eat an elephant one bite at a time—couldn’t be more true as we put our designs on our 2017 New Year’s Resolutions. Two of the more seminal scholars on goal setting of the last 50 years—Professors Locke and Latham—have demonstrated that goal setting and goal achievement work better when we bust up our goals into smaller parts. So, instead of saying that you’d like to lose 50 pounds by the end of 2017, the better way to do is to shrink both the time horizon and the goal itself. Donning our ELP coaching hats, we’d push for a more time-appropriate goal—to lose 5 pounds by January 31st. There are several psychological tricks at play here. First, human beings are woefully poor at prediction beyond several weeks. In other words, many of us can’t imagine 12 months out. Also, we know the Secret of Small Wins. Once January is in the bag and you’ve lost 6 pounds (not 5), you’ve developed cognitive and spiritual momentum. The next step, then, is to launch into February’s goal. Without fail, the best chance to achieve a yearly goal is to break the time period into months or quarters. Before you know it, you’ve strung together an annual accomplishment. You’ve got it—goal setting is an iterative process.

So, let’s recap. Choose fewer goals—ones that are critically important to you. Next, tell some people about your goals. Use shame or guilt or negative emotions for positive effect. Finally, shrink the time goal into manageable time horizons with realistic goal metrics.

Our turn to brag—across the globe, we are among the best at goal setting. If you want more than just a newsletter here, reach out to Robin Bichy at robin@elpadvantage.com to learn more.